The concept of blended learning has been around since the 1960s, but only recently has it taken off as a methodology, enabled by technology, for integrating traditional and virtual classrooms.
The educational practice commonly known as “blended learning” has been around for quite some time now, but a universally agreed upon definition is still hard to come by. So, what is blended learning?
At its most basic level, the term refers to the use of online learning methods and technologies to complement and enhance the traditional classroom experience. “Blended learning is one of the most powerful and influential innovations in education,” according to aeseducation.com, because it combines “the benefits of face-to-face education with the anywhere-anytime power of the Internet.”
The concept of blended learning dates to the early uses of technology to enhance training in the 1960s, and the term itself has been in use since the advent of the Internet in the 1990s. The practice began to grow in popularity following the 2006 publication of The Handbook of Blended Learning, which sought to introduce a more concrete definition to describe learning systems that “combine face-to-face instruction with computer-mediated instruction.”
The Online Learning Consortium describes blended learning as an educational practice in which “a portion of the traditional face-to-face instruction is replaced by web-based online learning.”
Many definitions of blended learning share the consensus that it typically includes three important components. The Blended Learning Universe describes these as:
Advancements in technology have created exciting new possibilities in the world of education. Now that countless teachers and school districts have been engaged in blended learning for a number of years, there is much to be learned from the tools and strategies they are integrating into the traditional classroom learning experience.
Today, blended learning is implemented around the globe using a number of different models. How many models? Well, like the definition of blended learning, the answer to that question differs depending on whom you ask.
According to Blended Learning Universe, there are seven distinct blended learning models:
The online component of blended learning requires tools ranging from the devices that students use (smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc.) to the software and organizing infrastructure designed for the teachers who coordinate the blended learning experience.
One commonly used tool is learning management software (LMS) that helps teachers organize their blended learning programs, with features that can include “virtual classroom” technology, online collaborative functionality, and the ability to customize “learning paths” and then track the effectiveness of their efforts with learning analytics.
Well-known examples include Blackboard, Moodle, Mindflash and LearnUpon. The website eLearningIndustry.com has compiled a directory of several hundred “Learning Management Systems with Blended Learning Support,” along with ratings, reviews and links to product websites.
There are also countless high-tech tools that have been developed to support and enhance online learning generally, as well as blended learning specifically, ranging from educational games to next-generation educational technology tools that can be used in the physical or virtual classroom.
For a look at a diverse selection of videos and articles, tools and strategies, and helpful online links, Edutopia.org has compiled a comprehensive “Blended Learning: Resource Roundup” for teachers and educators.
When asked about the benefits of blended learning, Shawn Rubin, director of blended learning for the nonprofit Highlander Institute, has said: “When it’s done right, the student is at the center of everything and becomes the driver of his or her own learning. … A smart use of technology and ed-tech tools can help teachers figure out how their students are doing day to day, hour to hour, even minute to minute. Blended learning can provide teachers with crucial feedback that enables them to intervene with greater precision and effectiveness and customize learning for their students.”
Additional benefits of the mix of online and classroom, teacher-led learning offered by blended learning models include:
The Blended Learning ‘Learning Curve’
The high-tech, online aspect of blended learning means there is often a learning curve involved for teachers who may be less familiar with next-generation educational technology.
Interestingly, the well-established benefits of online learning can also come into play in the teacher education scenario, now that more colleges and universities are utilizing virtual technology tools and methodologies to deliver Master of Education degree programs.
From blended learning to digital literacy and differentiated instruction, many modern M.Ed. programs now offer the opportunity to specialize in leading-edge aspects of the 21st-century educational experience.